PAY us £50 - or we might just plant a shrub outside your gate. That's what Bournemouth council is telling 600 residents.

People who have a gate from their property on to land owned by the leisure services department of the council have been told that they must cough up £50 for a guarantee that they can continue to use their access for the next five years.

If residents refuse to pay for an access agreement, the council could plant a hedge or put up a fence blocking the gate.

Around 300 residents in North Bournemouth have already received letters from the council and a further 300 letters will be sent this week.

If all 600 residents pay up then the council will have netted £30,000.

Neil Akerman, of Strathmore Road, whose back gate opens on to a public footpath, said: "When I got the letter I thought it was just a money-making scheme by the council. It really is a half-baked idea."

Other residents have also been confused by the scheme.

The letter states: "If access is maintained without an agreement, leisure services may make alterations to its adjoining land in a way that could block your access, such as planting a hedge or shrubbery, or erecting a fence."

A council spokesman said: "We have had a number of enquiries from people asking for further information or wanting to talk through what the agreements were about."

Mr Akerman was told by a lawyer that because his gate has been in existence for more than 20 years under the Prescriptions Act of 1832 he had a right to continue to use it. So he has written to the council refusing to pay.

The council spokesman said that this act could not apply to rights of way onto open space.

Other residents may also be hedging their bets as no-one has paid the money yet although the council does already have 80 access agreements in place with residents in Bournemouth.